Every conference follows a different planning process. Some begin developing the agenda and choosing speakers more than 12 months in advance.  Others wait until much closer to the actual conference date to send out speaker invitations. Regardless of the planning timeline, conferences typically fall into one of two categories: Those that issue a formal call for presentations (CFP) and those that do not.

What is a CFP?
A call for presentations (or papers or presenters) is a formal process that conference organizers use to solicit speaker and topic ideas for their agenda/programme. Often, they will create an online form with specific questions about the presentation idea. In other situations, the conference will simply ask for suggestions to be sent via email. The call for presentations will almost always be announced along with a formal deadline which must be met to receive full consideration.

What is the secret to filling out a CFP successfully?
While every event is looking for something different, best practices in CFP completion are pretty standard:

Before you officially decide to make a speaker/topic suggestion, be sure the conference is appropriate. Is the target audience of the event relevant to your business? Does the timing of the event work with your (or your suggested speaker’s) calendar? Is the conference theme also pertinent?

Review the submission form. If you are able to download a sample/offline copy of the CFP form, do! Fill in the requested fields offline so that you don’t miss anything or realize that you lack a critical piece of information halfway through filling in the online form.

Think about a topic that conference attendees would want to hear – not just what your speaker wants to address. Often, attendees must justify their conference attendance by telling their boss what they learned onsite. Will your topic help their cause? Will your speaker be providing practical information that the attendees can apply as soon as they get back to their offices? Wil the conference organizers easily understand the problem that your suggested session has set out to address? If you answered ‘yes’ to those questions, you are on the right track. If not, you may want to recalibrate your speaker/topic suggestion.

Not only must your topic suggestion be relevant, but it should also stand out among other speaker/topic submissions. Does your suggested speaker have relevant experience? Will the session be presented in a unique way? Have you researched what your competitors are saying about the topic? Answering those questions is one of the best ways to figure out how to differentiate a speaker suggestion.

Regardless of what you submit please be sure it is NOT a sales pitch.  If you are unsure, ask a friend.  If you submit anything that resembles commercial messaging, your submission will be declined on the spot.

Supporting materials:
The CFP form is typically your only opportunity to impress upon the conference organizers why your speaker is the best and why your topic is the most appropriate for the agenda of the dozens (sometimes hundreds!) they receive. If the CFP form asks for supporting materials, take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your differentiators! Do you have a video of your speaker presenting at another event (even if it is a local organization)? Share the link. Do you have a blog post that they have written about your topic idea? Have they been interviewed for an article on the subject? Anything that highlights the speaker’s smarts in relation to the topic or event makes a great addition to a proposal.

Follow the instructions:
There are some who insist that rules are meant to be broken. They are not necessarily the ones being selected through a conference CFP process. If a conference CFP form states “vendor companies must present with a customer,” and your company is a vendor (i.e. has something to sell to the conference attendees), then you must co-present with a customer. If the conference CFP asks for “three examples of previous speaking engagements,” do not list two, or six… give three. Oftentimes, event organizers will disqualify speaker submissions that are not complete or do not follow the CFP rules.

Learn from your mistakes:
If you have a speaker/topic proposal that you keep submitting for consideration, only to have it rejected again and again, it may be time to try something new. Don’t be afraid to ask conference organizers for feedback as to why your proposal was declined and modify it based on their response.  There are many conferences out there. Keep trying!